the book


The stalwart and ever-interesting Fiction Writers Review has posted the conversation I had recently with Michael Shilling (author of the novel Rock Bottom) — in which we get into all kinds of writerly business. Check it out!

“When I’m down in the guts of a book I work sentence-to-sentence, paragraph-to-paragraph, scene-to-scene, and I worry about pacing, timing, narrative interest, that sort of thing, and then suddenly there’ll be a chiming sound from some unfamiliar area of my brain that will suggest that A is going to fit neatly, or interestingly, into slot B. Which I then take note of, I think, and go on doing what I was doing. If you can understand the book you’re writing as you’re writing it, I think, it’s not big or interesting enough.”

Steven Vogt of UC Santa Cruz has been getting a lot of attention lately for his discovery of a “Cinderella” exoplanet – one right in the habitable zone of its star.  Officially called Gliese 581g, he’s unofficially named it after his wife, who happens to have an excellent moniker herself — Zarmina.  I think she’s from Earth, but her name is otherworldly, and just the sort of name you want to hang on a newly discovered world.  Lively discussions are underway as to whether Zarmina (the planet, not the lady) might be actually habitable, and if so, by what.  Vogt has, entertainingly, assured us that life does exist there.  Paul Gilster at the superb blog Centauri Dreams has some excellent coverage of the whole question — and manages to fold a lovely review of Percival’s Planet into the mix, too.

Zarmina has an orbital period of 37 days, orbiting at a distance of 0.146 AU from its star. Its mass appears to be 3.1 to 4.3 times that of Earth, with a radius of 1.3 to 2.0 times that of Earth. Its mass indicates that it is probably a rocky planet with a solid surface.   It’s about 20 light years from us — a mere stroll in astronomical terms.

Of course, you can always take them home — why not!  Free! 

Spirit, the inflight magazine of Southwest Airlines, has a nice mention here of Percival’s Planet, again alongside some fine company.  It’s nice to be back in Spirit — and who can complain being mentioned alongside the lovely and talented Drew Barrymore?   (I think I’m responsible for about 245,000 of those google hits myself.)  (Too much information.)  Thanks, Derek, for sending this my way!

Parade Magazine, home of Marilyn vos Savant and Howard Huge, gives Percival’s Planet a nice mention — amid some pretty cool company.  I will take this opportunity to announce that starting today I will be doing a three-person show with Patti Lupone and Leonard Cohen, opening in my brain, running for eternity.

Nice review of Percival’s Planet today from the Boston Globe – thanks, Ms. Schlack!

“Deserving of our admiration and awe.  In this quietly poignant book about the search for Planet X (eventually known as Pluto), all of the fictional characters orbiting Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who discovered Pluto, are in some way navigating that thin and shifting border between what’s literal and imagined, between what’s real and simply longed for.  Pluto, Percival Lowell’s planet, is more than an invisible force exerting gravitational pull. It’s a metaphor for loss and pursuit, for the irregular orbits that define our most meaningful relationships.  Byers’s writing, always lyrical, shimmers and trembles and breaks our hearts.”

One of the many pleasures of writing Percival’s Planet was unearthing the glorious slang of the period.  Edmund Wilson’s journals were great for this – deadpan documents of sex, drunkenness, and various kinds of cant (and other things spelled with a c, n, and t).

It was a sort of sport in that day – getting off the best line.  Here are just a few of my notes on the subject — those with checkmarks made it into the book, at least for the space of a draft or two.

The New York Times gives Percival’s Planet a solid review  in Monday’s books section – noting the book’s “untamable yearnings” no less!  (Rowr.) (See below.)

“Vivid…lyrical and exact….The search for Planet X offers Mr. Byers a wonderful opportunity for dramatizing the human desire for discovery, but he’s after an even wider story, one that probes the very nature of searching….A deeply generous attempt to explore the forces that make us restless, that make us want to wander the desert or peer into the sky or pace along our own fence lines, dreaming of finding something that might not be out there.  Mr. Byers reminds us that whether we’re gripped by desire for a new planet or for another human being, that yearning has dignity and its own strange logic.”

Very nice.  And I recommend googling “untamed yearnings.”

"She fought the darkly handsome officer at every turn, clinging to her Indian ways and wondering at his notions of civilization. For certainly there was nothing civilized about the untamed yearnings he awakened as he cupped her ripe curves, rained tender kisses over her soft form and led her into a world of unforgettable ecstasy." -- Cheyenne Sunrise, C. O'Banyon (1990)

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